Uniform: Kacey Jeffers’ nostalgic gaze

A form of nostalgia precipitated Kacey Jeffers’ first book Uniform: the photographer’s engagement with photography began in New York City, however, it was only on returning to his childhood home on Nevis, the Caribbean island, that Uniform was born. “[The project] started as an idea to catalogue the different school uniforms of Nevis. It soon evolved into a nostalgic desire to recognise individuality,” explains Jeffers in the publication’s foreword.

The book comprises vivid depictions of students nominated by the island’s 14 schools: contemplative portraits infused with an adolescent dreaminess and sense of self-doubt. Jeffers collaborated with the Nevisian cultural office and educational authorities to conceive of the project — his only requisite: that the pupils selected were not those accustomed to taking centre stage.

The images allow their subjects to breath. They appear natural, and the short segments of text, which accompany each portrait, are far from contrived. The authenticity of the work may derive in part from the fact that Jeffers was one of these teenagers — the memories of his uniforms occupying a poignant strand in the recollection of his youth: his mother, akin to the woman in Degas’ The Laundress, steaming, ironing, and starching his early garb, after which Jeffers inherited the task during secondary school and sixth form.

“Twelve years ago, while attending the Nevis Sixth Form College, I wore a white cotton shirt with brown pants. This uniform holds weight. It says, ‘Here is a young professional man. He is serious about education and his future’, and now, here we are, full circle,” writes Jeffers.

Below, we share excerpts from the photographer’s first photo book.

From the series Uniform © Kacey Jeffers.

“I live with my dad. He is always there to protect me. I use to be afraid of the dark. Maybe, he is too. He tells me that he is going to sleep in the back room away from the monsters. I tell him, “Don’t be afraid, come back right here”

Tishaunte, 10, Cecele Browne Integrated School

From the series Uniform © Kacey Jeffers.

“Who am I? I’m not the protagonist of a story who will save the world. I’m not the boy next door who’s friends with everyone. I’m just another kid at school who wants to have fun. School, studying, and sleeping get in the way of playing video games, football tennis, and basket ball. I have a lot of friends but there are some people I despise because they do stupid things”

Dylan, 12, Nevis International Secondary School

From the series Uniform © Kacey Jeffers.

“People paint us into an idea of who we should be. I had insecurities about my skin and weight: Teased for being dark and for being bigger. After I lost the weight it felt like something was gone. I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin. One of my favourite quotes is, “Aspire to inspire, before you expire.” My advice is to not let people tell you who you ought to be. Love yourself”

Chassidy, 15, Charlestown Secondary School

From the series Uniform © Kacey Jeffers.

“I feel like black people are treated unfairly. We should not judge others based on their skin colour. Everyone deserves a chance in life. I want to be a lawyer so that I can make things in the world better. Right now, I am working to improve my confidence”

Junice, 11, St James Primary School

From the series Uniform © Kacey Jeffers.

I don’t know who I am. Oftentimes, if someone is talking to me, my mind is elsewhere, thinking about songs I want to write or beats I want to make. I’m not overconfident or confident. Close friends and family tell me that they don’t see any emotion in my face; am I happy or sad? It’s tricky finding the balance. I find my life weird but it’s my life and I have to live it”

Roberto, 16, Nevis International Secondary School

Uniform is available to purchase here.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she was Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.